Testing season inevitably means classroom stress will hit a new high. So, how can you keep anxiety levels in check, and help your students stay cool, calm, and collected when test day rolls around? Here are six tips for a low(er) stress testing season:
1. Admit there is a problem
Test anxiety is a real thing, and as a teacher, it’s important to be educated about its existence so you can help any students who truly struggle with it. Those who do may show the signs in different ways, such as complaining of physical ailments like stomachaches, exhibiting sudden changes in mood or behavior, or having difficulty memorizing material or paying attention. Test anxiety won’t look the same in any two students, so make sure you’re familiar with all the symptoms. It’s also beneficial to make it a priority to communicate with classroom parents and other school staff about test anxiety and the impact it has on student performance during standardized testing. The more support you can offer students, the better their exams will go.
2. Be positive
Your students are always playing “follow the leader”, even when they don’t realize it. As an educator, you spend a lot of time with your class, and they will naturally look to you as a model for behavior. If you let stress get the best of you during standardized testing season, there’s a good chance your students will mirror that stress. So, be careful to keep exams in perspective, avoid expectations of perfection, remind your students that you believe in their abilities, and simply encourage them to put forth their best effort. The week of testing, try and keep the mood light in your classroom by asking students about things not related to the classroom. Encourage them to share their feelings about testing, especially if you can tell they are beginning to get stressed out—realizing they are not alone in their anxiety is a powerful tool to keep stress in check.
And, if you feel yourself beginning to succumb to stress or negative feelings, practice some mindfulness breathing or quiet personal meditation. Bring healthy snacks or small comforting treats for yourself during the day. Take a bubble bath when you get home. Just make sure you’re setting a positive example for the kids.
3. Teach effective study strategies
You’ve certainly heard it before—preparation is key to success. Preparing your students for taking standardized tests well in advance of the actual testing dates is a great way to help minimize anxiety in your classroom. When your students feel comfortable with and capable of tackling the material they will see on the test, they’ll be much more likely to go in feeling confident. Teaching students simple testing strategies, like breaking down tasks, pneumonic devices, and searching for context clues will not only help them perform better on the exams, but also give them tools to cope with testing anxiety while they work. Multiple choice strategies, like breaking down bigger words into smaller parts or using the process of elimination are just a few of the many strategies you can teach your kids to help them be more confident when it comes time to take the big test.
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4. Encourage healthy habits
Just like runners should be in tip-top shape before starting a marathon, students’ bodies should be tuned up and ready to go before taking any kind of standardized test. Before the day of the exam, tell your students about the importance of getting a good night’s sleep beforehand. If possible, try to assign little or no homework. Also be sure to remind students that waking up early on testing day—which give their brains time to wake up, and themselves time to eat a good breakfast—is vital to their performance. Consider sending home a flyer for parents with healthy tips to help kids be at their best, or hosting a pre-exam breakfast to make sure students are well-fueled. If nothing else, be sure to have a box of hearty granola bars or bag of fresh fruit on hand to pass out to kids in a pinch.
5. Be extra prepared
Nearly everyone has gone through the stomach dropping terror of realizing they have forgotten something important on testing day. Some kids might be so focused on last minute studying, brushing up on their testing strategies, and staying focused on the assessment, that they leave home without their calculator. Or, they whip out their lucky pencil, only to realize the eraser is a black stub. Scrambling to find missing materials will stress your students out, and may even negatively impact their confidence right before testing begins. Having extra testing material ready for kids who forget something will not only give you peace of mind, it will also restore confidence in a child who didn’t remember something. It’s an easy way to make sure the test day runs smoothly for every child in your classroom.
6. Use simple stress management tricks
Being aware of how to cope with anxiety and stress while experiencing it is just as important as taking steps to ward it off. Some students will experience anxiety during the exam no matter what they do to prepare, so it’s important to teach and practice simple stress management techniques like breathing, taking stretching breaks, and doing mini-meditations. Teach your students to choose one or two strategies they can use during the test, so they don’t feel like they have too much to remember on top of their test taking strategies. During the weeks leading up to the test, spend a few minutes of class time practicing the techniques, giving everyone a chance to feel comfortable with the methods they have chosen. Before testing begins, have everyone practice their technique one last time, and remind them to be non-disruptive if they feel the need to use their method during the exam. Exams are usually timed, so teaching students quick and non-disruptive stress management techniques is key to helping students out when you can’t get to them during the exam.
Standardized testing season can be intimidating, but with a little preparation and the right attitude, you can keep stress from getting the best of you and your students! Looking for more test prep tips? Check out these 4 Creative Classroom Strategies!